Federal Way City Council supports district school facilities bond

As Totem Middle School student Marcello Desimone explained to the Federal Way City Council Tuesday, the boilers routinely catch fire at the school, disrupting class time. It happened that very day, in fact, and students missed 30 to 40 minutes of school as the problem was addressed.

Isabella Bogen, a student at Illahee Middle School, told the council the temperature of classrooms at her school are either too hot or too cold, and the classroom space is too small for the number of students, and there is no room for them to sit at a desk comfortably.

At Thomas Jefferson High School and Olympic View Elementary, sinking foundations are critical concerns; and an old roof-drainage system at Illahee Middle School is causing brick columns to deteriorate in the school’s walkway.

Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell also said the schools set to be rebuilt, modernized or expanded should the bond measure pass — Thomas Jefferson High School; Totem and Illahee middle schools; and Olympic View, Mirror Lake, Star Lake, Lake Grove and Wildwood elementaries — are all over 40 years old and deteriorating and were not built to accommodate current educational or space needs. She said at Wildwood Elementary two teachers teach 44 kindergarten students in one classroom because there is no extra room. The bond, however, would address the district’s building and overcrowding problems and enhance safety and security district wide. As well, all the district schools would benefit from improvements through state school construction funds.

In the end, the students’ testimony and the presentation by and board President Geoffery McAnnaloy convinced the City Council to publicly support the district’s $450 million school facilities bond being presented to voters in the Nov. 7 general election.

Residents, some of whom stating they hadn’t planned to comment until hearing the presentation, also spoke in favor of the bond. No one spoke out against the bond measure.

Federal Way resident H. David Kaplan said he was “absolutely appalled” the problems at the schools have been allowed to go on so long.

“What in the hell was everybody doing all these years,” Kaplan asked before Campbell said the community opposed the last bond measure presented in 2007 under previous leadership.

Resident Betty Taylor said she was concerned to hear about the mold problems many of the schools face because that can negatively impact students’ health.

“This should have been done years ago and not in 2017,” she said. “The more I think about it, it’s sick.”

Two council members were not as easily swayed as the rest, however. Councilman Bob Celski said he came into the council meeting opposed to the resolution but changed his mind after learning more about how the bond will be funded and taxpayers impacted.

Campbell said the bond measure will not increase the amount of property taxes collected by the district. So, the average property owner in Federal Way will continue to pay $2.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. In fact, by 2019, taxpayers will be paying less in total property taxes to the district because of the McCleary decision.

Councilwoman Susan Honda was concerned with how the schools included in the bond measure were selected, stating she wished Decatur High School had been included because building conditions have not improved there since her daughters attended, although they still received good educations. She also pointed out she attended a school over 100 years old in Tacoma and still received a good education, as well.

“You don’t need a brand new building to get a good education,” she said.

Honda did say she agreed the city needed good schools to attract new people, however, but reiterated her belief that new buildings would not change the education students received.

District officials disagree, however, stating building conditions do impact how well students learn.

“We want our scholars to thrive in school environments conducive to learning,” district spokesperson Kassie Swenson said after the meeting. “It is not an ideal learning environment if students are cold or if their basic needs are not being met. Our goal for all schools is to have up-to-date buildings that are comfortable, safe and inspire high quality learning environments for all of our scholars.”

Mayor Jim Ferrell said Wednesday he also he supported the bond measure because he thinks it is important for the community’s future.

“When people think of a community when they are relocating to our community or opening a business here, the first question these people ask is ‘do they have good schools,’ and we need to make sure we answer that in the affirmative,” Ferrell said. “In the end, I really think that the council is in line with the school district that this bond measure is long overdue.”

Thomas Jefferson High School foundation problems would be corrected if the $450 million school facilities bond measure is approved by voters Nov. 7. Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

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